Ralph Stanley & Friends
Clinch Mountain Country, Rebel CDx2 5001, 1998
Bluegrass master does the duet thing
Listening to Ralph Stanley is like staring directly into the soul of man:
powerfully transcendent and awe-inspiring. High lonesome, high quality music
are synonymous with his name. On Stanleys latest, "Clinch Mountain
Country," the bluegrass legend enlists the aid of many of his friends for
a double-disc, thirty-six-song celebration that sounds effortless and ethereal,
winsome and wonderful.
Drawing primarily from the Stanley Brothers rich catalog, "Clinch
Mountain Country" plays like a classic-strewn retrospective. Songs such as
"Pretty Polly," performed beautifully with Kentuckian Patty Loveless,
and "Ill Take The Blame," with Rhonda Vincent, hearken to a
time when mellifluous harmonies and timeless tales of love were the norm. They
still are for Stanley.
Still full of voice, seventy-one-year-old Stanley more than holds his own
alongside superstars such as Vince Gill and former Clinch Mountain Boy Ricky
Skaggs. His performance with George Jones on the country legends
"The Window Up Above" proves him on par with the man widely regarded
as countrys greatest vocalist. Pairings with countrys Joe Diffie
("Another Night"), John Anderson ("I Only Exist") and Marty
Stuart ("Shes More To Be Pitied") exhibit the expansive
influence his music has had, while also demonstrating its timeless nature. Good
songs simply never go out of vogue.
Two duets with Dwight Yoakam, the knee-slapping "I Just Got Wise" and
the cold hard gospel fact of "The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn,"
further present the breadth of Stanleys music. Equally comfortable with
old-time mountain tunes and Sunday school paeans, Stanleys emotive voice
has the charm of realism and the blessing of authenticity whatever the song.
Given this, during his recitation on "How Can We Thank Him For What He Has
Done" (with Diamond Rio), there is no doubt left within the listener that
what he says is not true. In that, Stanley surpasses the best of preachers and
the finest of singers.
Bob Dylan, who duets with Stanley on "The Lonesome River," called his
participation "the highlight of my career." High praise from the
legendary folk/rock star. Dylans craggy emotive voice proves an ideal
match for Stanley. As he enthusiastically plays rhythm guitar, Dylan
wholeheartedly croons the lead vocal as well as anyone has done.
Stanleys band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, provide much of the
instrumentation. His son, Ralph Stanley II, chimes in vocally for two songs,
"Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine" and "Lonesome Banjo
Man," one of the last songs written by his late brother Carter.
Ralph Stanley sounds like someone whos leaped from the clouds, a heavenly
constellation sent to grace us all with his unearthly talent. His music, salve
for the soul, hearty and fulfilling, joyfully replenishing and wholesome, is
like a gift from God to us all. Tom Netherland
of related interest
A fine portrait of Ralph Stanley, and other honest country artists, can be found in
Nicholas Dawidoffs excellent book, In the Country of Country,
published in 1997 by Vintage Books. Highly recommended.